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How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World's Most Dynamic Region

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  2,947 ratings  ·  304 reviews
In the 1980s and 1990s many in the West came to believe in the myth of an East-Asian economic miracle. Japan was going to dominate, then China. Countries were called “tigers” or “mini-dragons,” and were seen as not just development prodigies, but as a unified bloc, culturally and economically similar, and inexorably on the rise.

Joe Studwell has spent two decades as a repor
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published June 25th 2013 by Grove Press (first published March 1st 2013)
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Harsha Varma This is an easy read with very little jargon. The author provides a context for all the economies which helps us better understand the development pol…moreThis is an easy read with very little jargon. The author provides a context for all the economies which helps us better understand the development policies across these countries(less)

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This was excellent, very well organized and concisely argued. Basic point I think is that nations need to take control of their own economic and industrial narratives. The first part was eye opening for me, focusing on agricultural policy and land reform - effectively arguing that the first stage of development should be redistribution to encourage high density labor intensive farming as a means to employ workers and increase acreage yields, which improves the current account and creates a domes ...more
Aug 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: asia, gift
Really interesting book! This might be the only book I’ve ever read on macroeconomics, but it’s very well written and reads easily.

The book investigated and expounds the successful and not so successful economies of Eastern Asia, comparing why certain ones (Taiwan, S Korea, Japan) succeeded, while others (Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand) never reached the same level of success. The author explains that a lot of the policies that made these and other industrialized countries successful are cont
Oct 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Studwell's How Asia Works is a forceful challenge to a previous Washington Consensus of international development. His models for success are the German Historical School and the United States in the 19th century, and more recently South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and China -- and by contrast, he sees more failure in Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia.

Studwell's model is easy to summarize. It is in three steps - First, agricultural reforms: land redistribution and labor-intensive far
Dyan Canlas
Feb 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Highly stimulating. Very relevant with clear examples given and direct to the point. Influential read as I am part of an East Asian country, and seeing how we and neighboring countries operate is a bit disappointing and encouraging. There is room for improvement in the economies of South East nations, lots of it, but it will come from the people.

I barely knew economics concepts, but here I am trying to google the main points I take from the book. Very comprehensive and worthy read.
Ravi Srikant
Jun 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I wish Indian policymakers read this book before designing any of their policies. The book summarises the economic policies implemented by Japan, Korea and Taiwan that lead to their stupendous growth and earned them the moniker "Asian Tigers". There is a comparison with Indonesia, Malaysia, Phillipines and Thailand as well on what not to do. The 3 key policies highlighted are land redistribution to support small scale independent agriculture, export oriented manufacturing policies with domestic ...more
Elena Zhukova
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A must-read for anyone interested in Asia or in a more general question of economic development. The author is a bit repetitive with the core principles he has identified, but now I'm sure I'll remember them ...more
Sep 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good
Oliver Kim
Dec 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: development
The rise of the east Asian economies, and the lifting of their six hundred million out of grinding poverty, is the central fact of the past hundred years. In scope, nothing else comes close.

In “How Asia Works”, Joe Studwell tells us how this seeming miracle was made possible: a three-step prescription of land reform, export-focused industrial policy, and financial repression. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and (most recently) mainland China have grown rich by following this formula; by ignoring it,
Jacob Emrey
Mar 08, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not easy but worth it

This is an academic look at the economic successes and failures in Asia. Considering the complexity of the topic this is a very concise yet informative book. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to someone who has a very basic understanding of economics but rather for individuals who have at least a foundation in Macro/ history and are interested in diving a little deeper into a complex world.
Laurent Franckx
Sep 09, 2018 rated it liked it
I have read this book following the positive Twitter review by Noah Smith

I am now trying to find some points to add to what Noah Smith wrote on the subject but it's not easy to think of anything.

I should admit that while, reading the book, I often had the economists' reflex of asking myself: "well, right, this may be true in practice, but does it also in theory"? It's of course easy to make fun of this attitude, but it's actually a valid question: it's no
Kair Käsper
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I wanted to give this book 4 stars, because of the author's tendency to go into too much detail (for my liking). But I can't. This book broke a lot of what turned out to be misconceptions and it marvellously explains (in a Sapiens-kind-of-way) how countries like Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan have become economic powerhouses while Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia are trailing far behind, despite having roughly the same starting point. It's a well-researched and brilliantly argued blueprint ...more
Aaron Arnold
Jul 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The title makes a bold claim, but overall Studwell does an excellent job of condensing, comparing, and commenting on the development paths of almost all of the major northeast and southeast Asian economies from an elevated yet rigorous level. While space prevents him from discussing some of the most unique countries - I'm thinking mostly of North Korea and Vietnam as well as Singapore and Hong Kong, though surely Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea have their own interesting stories - ...more
Apr 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent economic study of Asia – a lot can be learned. Often, economic thought diverges in Asia compared to the West, and even from the IMF imperative of complete free market. There is more emphasis on state financing, which is a double edged sword depending on whether the capital is used effectively or not. Capital used to fund development of infrastructure, manufacturing; and analogously - land reform (to crack down on despotic land ownership) is ideal. These factors help ensure a nations ...more
Ryan Huynh
May 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Joe Studwell looked back to history and figured out the economic framework for developing a national economy in the most simplistic and fundamental way. I've learned so much about different economies in Asia in the past and could see the results from those previous decisions/ strategies each made lead to the current presence of each country in Asia. This book has heightened my interests in economics for its simplism and logics, I learned to understand the importance of this decision making to ou ...more
Jun 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
the least libertarian book

it's an _actual plan_ to go, uh, "from third world to first", and it makes sense, and it seems to work! it's politically hard, but it's not magic!

pretty much summarizes to: land reform & export discipline

this review elegantly reframes the book's policies: they are all about _directing toward positive externalities_ for development:
- land reform => higher productivity, larger tax & consumer base
- export discipline => making better and more advanced products, development
Alex O'Connor
Jan 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very informative and readable account of how Asia got to be where it is today through the lens of agriculture, manufacturing, and finance with particular emphasis on China. I learned a great deal from this book and recommend it highly.
Andrew Chapman
Nov 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
He has very persuasive arguments about what policies developing countries should adopt, based on the historical record of several Asian countries. I kept thinking about how these might apply to Latin America.
Jan 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Studwell's book is a coherent, well-reasoned primer on the causes of economic growth and lack thereof in east Asia. Through careful historical analysis, the author has clearly disproved the myths propagated by experts on both sides of the left-right divide regarding the drivers of economic success. The author has clearly segregated the successes (S. Korea, Japan and Taiwan) from the middling performers (Malaysia, Thailand) and the complete failures (Indonesia and Philippines) - this distinction ...more
Miebara Jato
Apr 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Asian countries took the world by surprise. Their miraculous rise from third world to first world economies is an inspiration. But less known is the kind of reforms and policies these nations implemented, most of which were in many ways at variance with traditional economic ideas.

In this excellent book, Studwell highlighted concisely and persuasively that what works for development (going from poor to rich) is NOT the same as what works for rich countries. He was harshly critical of the IMF
Ryan Tolusso
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book! Studwell has a clear, persuasive and analytical writing style that is a joy to read. He presents a simple argument that can be summed up in a few sentences and slowly, carefully constructs a supporting edifice. He weaves together data and storytelling in a way that makes the argument approachable, if still somewhat technical. Studwell provides enough detail that the story, though oversimiplified at some points of the book, doesn't feel like a paper tiger in the Gladwell mould.

Ben Khoo
Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recipe for development success:

1. Land reform - Split land evenly. Don't let the cronies take control!
2. Manufacturing - Focus on exports, and being competitive overseas. Don't let the cronies take control!
3. Finance - A tool to accelerate industrialization, never a end in itself. Don't let the cronies take control!

Mix thoroughly. Let sit for 25 years.

While the title is how "Asia" works (actually it should be "How Asia Worked"), the book is really about Studwell's recipe of
Michael Wallace
Jun 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
I bought this book on the recommendation of the Marginal Revolution blog. I enjoyed it a good deal and the theme of agricultural reform as a precursor to the industrial revolution in NE Asia was new to me. I was more aware of the export and banking components of their development.
Robert Morris
Jan 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant. I feel like I learned more from this book than any I have read in years. The breadth of history and geography it covers in a very short, approachable package is very impressive. The book has insights on China, but more importantly it provides an easily digestible summary of the past half century+ of economic development in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. It situates China within that framework of success and failure.

For somebody like myself, who h
Samuel Miller
Nov 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Relatively short book with a simple thesis but backed by a ton of research (I counted 583 footnotes!) I think the title is a little misleading though--How Asia Works sounds unintimidating (even when you include: Success and Failure in the World's Most Dynamic Region), yet the book itself can be overwhelming with economic detail. Personally, I took econ a while ago and don't interact with these aspects of business/economics intimately, so sometimes either my eyes glazed over or I had to google co ...more
Oren Mizrahi
Oct 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
tl;dr: long, highly academic, disorganized, incredibly well-researched and interesting. it fundamentally changed my opinions about economics.

deceptively short at 225 pages, this book is a highly academic dissection of the history of asian economics: the successful and unsuccessful. studwell discusses the historical backdrop of post ww2 asia and discussed how different countries approached their economies for the better/worse. his thesis is that government involvement is critical for a 3 step pr
Oct 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economics
"How Asia Works..." ("The book") comes highly recommended, garnering rave reviews from the likes of Bill Gates etc. The book more than merely lives up to the hype generated. Joe Studwell is more of a surgeon than an economist/journalist as he diagnoses the stumbling blocks, flexes out stimulants and prescribes suggestions that constitute the preserve of a select breed of North and South East Asian nations. Although not a policy prescription in the strictest and narrowest interpretations of the t ...more
Sep 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
For someone new to understanding how the economy of countries works, this book was such fulfilling read with little jargon but detailed explorations of different aspects of economy. The book shows the difference in policy taken by North-East Asian countries: South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and in some sense China to that of South-East Asian countries Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand for their economic growth. The book gives a synopsis of approaches taken by each government for three aspects of th ...more
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Was skeptical at first and thought this book is going to be all about gossips like it was in the Asian Godfathers. I was pleasantly surprised how well Joe was able to articulate such a broad topic and fit that into one book. Obviously, one can go much deeper into each country, etc. but given he had to fit everything in a few hundred pages, I neither find the book too short or too long. Having spent most of my life in Hong Kong and having visited many countries in Asia, the book gave me a new sen ...more
Jun 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book answers huge questions that I didn’t even know to ask. How did Korea and Taiwan follow Japan’s example to go from dirt-poor, feudal states in the early 20th century to rich, industrialized countries today? Why haven’t Southeast Asian countries been able to do the same? And most importantly, what gears are turning in China to take it down the same path—or not, depending on whether it can overcome building internal frictions?

The development strategy that emerges from history is amazingl
Jul 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The book focuses on 3 items for development of a emerging country - (1) land reforms and small scale farming, (2) setting up manufacturing industries and protecting them subject to export discipline and (3) tightly regulated economy to lead capital into industries which export and which the state wants to flourish.

The author is bold as he challenges the free market medicine provided by US and IMF to developing countries and says that no country has become rich just out of free markets. In the ph
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According to some historians, the month of April is actually named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, by way of the Romans....
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“The easiest way to run developmentally efficient finance continues to be through a banking system, because it is banks that can most easily be pointed by governments at the projects necessary to agricultural and industrial development. Most obviously, banks respond to central bank guidance. They can be controlled via rediscounting loans for exports and for industrial upgrading, with the system policed through requirements for export letters of credit from the ultimate borrowers. The simplicity and bluntness of this mechanism makes it highly effective. Bond markets, and particularly stock markets, are harder for policymakers to control. The main reason is that it is difficult to oversee the way in which funds from bond and stock issues are used. It is, tellingly, the capacity of bank-based systems for enforcing development policies that makes entrepreneurs in developing countries lobby so hard for bond, and especially stock, markets to be expanded. These markets are their means to escape government control. It is the job of governments to resist entrepreneurs’ lobbying until basic developmental objectives have been achieved. Equally, independent central banks are not appropriate to developing countries until considerable economic progress has been made.” 1 likes
“What created the Canons, the Samsungs, the Acers and so on in Japan, Korea and Taiwan was the marriage of infant industry protection and market forces, involving (initially) subsidised exports and competition between manufacturers that vied for state support.” 1 likes
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